So, there we were in Tucson, down three points late in overtime number two and a picture ran through my head which included team despondency, alumni depression and an avalanche of Aztec angst.
I willed that scene away and dwelled on the fact that despite all the day’s unfortunate rolls, Malcolm’s last shot had nestled in as the whistle sounded.
I recalled that Kodak moment of just two weeks ago as proud Papa, Malcolm Thomas, carried his baby girl—in all her one-year- old Aztec splendor, onto the court for senior night, I knew that Malcolm had attributed his mid-season free throw improvement to “thinking about Mikeala.”
So I was thinking about Mikeala too. That led to thinking about my baby girl, now 18, and while her interests were generally focused elsewhere, the modern realities of social media informed and inspired her to text me after all the big Aztec victories. “YEAH AZTECS!!!!” That led me to thinking about my stepson who did care about Aztec basketball and how he repeatedly texted me every time our senior point guard made a game-winning play: “DEEE JAY GAAAAY!!” Then I thought about my wife who was no doubt listening to Ted Leitner as she did her Saturday chauffeuring duties, and how as a citizen of the community, she, along with nearly everyone else, truly cared about the Aztecs.
The referee bounced the ball to Malcolm.
The thoughts of my family morphed into thoughts of the Aztec Basketball team family. I relaxed momentarily in the comforting memory of the reception at the hotel the night before and the joy in the eyes of the cluster of coaches’ wives and their friends. I worried about Angie Fisher’s cough, undoubtedly caught from Coach Fisher. Steve had told us he’d had the cough for eight weeks. I remembered his brush with mortality just 2 years ago (Know your scores!), but then I erased that thought by replaying the genuine display of happiness I’d absorbed that evening from the original Aztec Basketball group of super boosters called “Hoopla” and how they so reveled in the lifetime friendships they’d made with Aztec Basketball as the theme and how they exuded pure euphoria at our preposterously fantastic season. Like all of our fans.
And though our collective voices were still at this moment, there were certainly a couple of thousand hoarse throats from an afternoon of constant exhortations. “S D S U Aztecs fight” was impressively loud at tip. So was the 1000-strong Aztec choir’s rendition of Muse’s “We….. will ……be……… VICTOOOOORIOUS.” And, of course, The Show’s trademark “I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN” chant was a dominant display of Aztec Nation’s collective will.
Malcolm bounced the ball, spun it, and bent his knees.
“Bend your Knees” the close knit boosters would yell at our Aztecs during the dog-decades past as they urged our usual under-manned squad to make their free throws, I reminisced. Images of 700 die-hards in Peterson Gym caring so hard for a win or 1100 at the San Diego Sports Arena fully vested in Aztec success only to vaguely remember a meager handful of NCAA first-round eliminations in ’ 75, ’76 and ’85.
Malcolm eyed the basket and breathed.
I studied him with absolute concentration.
It occurred to me that Malcolm Thomas had some Bill Russell in him. Russell’s book “Go Up for Glory” had inspired my youth. The memory triggered the further recollection of a hundred winter nights in New England listening to the Celtics of Bill Russell on the transistor radio along with my 6’8” father. How I thought I would be 6’8” and play for the Celtics and defend and block shots and grab rebounds and win championships just like Russ. My father constantly praised Russell’s unselfish play. Now 95 and willing himself to walk a half a mile daily, I knew he was at that moment in his Florida townhome willing on Malcolm.
And then the vision passed through my mind that 2,000 Aztec fans attending, and 100,000 students and alumni and friends watching, and a community of San Diegans interwoven with SDSU and now drawn together for this powerfully magnetic moment were determinedly focused on psychically willing Malcolm Thomas to make that free throw because, well…………..IT IS OUR TIME!